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Mr. Chow’s Opus

Iconic restaurateur Michael Chow keeps it classic at his namesake concept in Malibu.

Michael Chow enjoys the view of his new Malibu restaurant.

Behind owlish eyeglasses, internationally renowned Michael Chow watches over his namesake restaurants like a hawk. “Every detail is a universe,” he explains, weighing in on the art selection, the cutlery and even the correct way to deliver a fingerprint-free plate (with three fingers underneath the dish). Such considerations, practiced consistently for 45 years, have been catnip to A-listers of every zeitgeist and helped create the brand’s “strong culture”—a topic with which the Shanghai-born restaurateur with a penchant for quoting movie lines and song lyrics is well acquainted. The self-professed ambassador of Chinese culture has brought heritage to the table for every concept he’s ever opened—from the inaugural Mr Chow in London (1968) to subsequent outposts in New York, Beverly Hills and South Beach. His latest masterpiece is Mr Chow Malibu, tucked into the Malibu Country Mart, a whitewashed ode to sand and surf in his patented formula. “Once you have found her, never let her go,’” he says, quoting the South Pacific song “Some Enchanted Evening.” “I’m a classic kind of guy.”

On how Malibu became home to the sixth Mr Chow
“Water is a fantastic thing, a very romantic idea. I always had Malibu in the back of my mind, and a lot of our clientele lives here. Then Nobu moved and it was a no-brainer.”

On the Nobu-to-Mr Chow transformation
“First we gutted it, then asked, ‘What does the space tell us to do?’ And it became this white-on-white-on-white design. Even the waiters’ uniforms. Everybody looked like glasses of milk. That’s not my line—it’s from a Humphrey Bogart movie.”

On staying classic
“Once you find [the formula], you repeat it. You don’t deviate. Our menu changes 20 percent every season but we try not to get away from the structure.”

On his love of art
“I’ve always collected art, even before I had money: Mickey Mouse watches, Coca-Cola bottles. Everything is art, even our noodle-making show we do in every restaurant, every night. It’s amazing how a piece of dough, without any instruments, becomes noodles. It’s a five-minute cabaret.”

On where he eats
“I like Takao in Brentwood, Cut for steak. And Lawry’s. Recently, we went to Bestia and I loved their pizzas. I finally went to Fatburger, but I couldn’t believe how health-conscious it was! They destroyed my illusion of this greasy, running-down-your-sleeve kind of burger, but [it was] delicious. They should call it Thinburger!”
 

On the evolution of the restaurant industry
“People used to go out only for special occasions. Nowadays, you can’t afford not to eat out every night. Time is money and we’re all busy. Imagine: You go to the market, buy everything, go home, cook the thing and eat it. Sounds very expensive to me!”